No one disputes that human beings are bioelectric. Our hearts and brains are regulated by internal bioelectric signals as evidenced by the use of pacemakers and EEGs. What, then, is the relationship between sleep and technology?
Every cell in the body has an electrical charge, and the function of the cell is based on electricity and electron transfers.
It’s not a stretch to conclude that artificial electromagnetic fields (EMFs) have the potential to disrupt the fundamental process of sleep. Melatonin, our core sleep regulator, has been implicated in numerous diseases and immune deficiencies.
- Role of Melatonin in Neurodegenerative Diseases
- Melatonin in Aging and Disease
- Protective Role of Melatonin in Neonatal Disease
If melatonin levels are reduced, we are more vulnerable to disease. One of the biggest disruptors of melatonin appears to be electromagnetic radiation emitted from devices like cell phones, electrical appliances, cordless phones, wireless baby monitors and other electrical devices.
- 900-MHz microwave radiation promotes oxidation in rat brain
- Oxidative damage in the kidney induced by 900-MHz-emitted mobile phone: protection by melatonin
- Neuroprotective role of melatonin in oxidative stress-vulnerable brain
- Pineal melatonin levels disruption in humans due to electromagnetic fields and ICNIRP limits
A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that artificial light at night contributed to excessive weight in men and women almost as much as eating junk food. (Study here.)
Sleep, Melatonin and Electronic Devices
Wolfgang Maes is a former journalist from Germany, who turned his health around by reducing his EMF exposure at night. Now active in the field of Building Biology, Maes has lectured on the subject of sleep and electromagnetic radiation. He offers a wealth of information in his lecture Stress from Current and Radiation: The Sick Sleeping-Room and Its Successful Treatment.
Simply eliminating electronic media two hours before bed can help improve sleep. In the study Using Electronic Media Before Sleep can Curtail Sleep Time and Result in Self-Perceived Insufficient Sleep, only 29.0% of light users perceived they had insufficient sleep compared to 53.5% of heavy users.
The good news is that much can be done to give our bodies a break and restore that deep sleep we once knew as a child.
The following 15 suggestions are based on my personal experience as well as resources provided by the International Institute for Building Biology and Ecology (IIBBE).
Excellent First Steps
1. Turn off the router at night
This simple step can go a long way to reducing your night time exposure. Ideally, it’s optimal to transition to wired computers and eliminate Wi-Fi altogether, but turning off the router is an excellent first step. If you must be near an active router either at night or during the day, consider a router guard available at Less EMF. (For more on our recent transition see From Wireless to Wired – Our Family’s Journey.)
You can also consider putting your router on a simple timer like this one.
2. Remove or relocate your phone (unless it is a corded landline)
Cordless DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) phones emit high levels of microwave radiation. Most of the hazardous EMFs come from the base station that is powered 24 hours a day. The antennas radiate these fields for hundreds of feet and are much like having a mini cell phone tower in your room. (See The Health Effects of Cordless Phones.)
If a corded phone is not an option, move the base station to another area of the home, keeping the charged handset in the room with you, at least, six feet from your body. The video below shows the high levels emitting from a DECT cordless phone. (The video also shows the lower readings when a cell phone is in airplane mode as well as the blue-light filtering orange glasses I wear at night!)
If a landline is not an option, and you must have your cell phone with you, keep it, at least, six feet from your body.
3. Remove as many electrical devices as possible from your sleeping area
If possible, remove radios, TVs, answering machines, VCRs, lamps, computers, etc. If you must have any of these, keep them, at least, six feet from your body and unplug them before sleep. The IIBBE recommends removing televisions entirely as they still emit fields when unplugged. Invest in a battery operated alarm clock if an alarm is needed. (Avoid using your cell phone as an alarm.)
Consider This “Powerful” Option
4. Try cutting the power supply to your bedroom
Turn off the circuit breaker that provides power to your sleeping area. If you’re not sure which one it is, switch off each circuit until you find it. You can also invest in a demand switch or cut-off switch that automatically cuts the flow of electricity to the room when there is no demand for it.
Other Factors to Consider
5. Avoid metal spring mattresses, box springs, and bed frames.
Metal can act as an antenna when it comes to ambient fields in the room. The metal may also be magnetized, making non-metallic bedding a healthier choice.
6. Choose an organic mattress and linens
Organic mattresses are expensive. We slept on an air mattress for years until we could afford our organic latex mattress found at Plush Beds. Futons offer a more affordable option as they are a much simpler form of a mattress. Some are made with 100% organic cotton.
More options are listed in the article How to Choose a Safe Bed and Bedding.
7. Rule out the presence of mold
Mold quickly grows on drywall in the presence of water. Electromagnetic radiation plays a role in this growth process as outlined in the article Toxic Mold and Electromagnetic Radiation. Check for hidden leaks with a moisture meter or thermal imaging device and repair any leaks as soon as they occur. (Learn more at A Beginner’s Guide to Toxic Mold.)
Steps that May Surprise You
8. Replace ionizing smoke detectors with photoelectric detectors
Ionizing smoke alarms contain a radioactive substance called americium-241. The americium-241 is located between two electrically charged plates and ionizes the air that causes current to flow between the plates. You may notice an immediate improvement by eliminating this source of disruption. (See Is Your Smoke Alarm a Biohazard? for a tutorial on changing out your smoke alarms.)
9. Avoid electric blankets
Studies show that pineal gland exposure to EMFs from electric blanket use can be 10-40 times greater than EMFs associated with electrical wiring in the home. Electric blankets have been implicated in the development of breast cancer as well as birth defects. You can “see” some of these fields in the following video:
Transition to natural comforters and blankets. If an electric blanket is a must, heat the bed and remove it before getting into bed. Avoid sleeping with a heating pad for similar reasons.
10. Remove all wireless baby monitors
Children and infants are especially vulnerable to invisible wireless radiation. Wireless baby monitors operate at the same frequency as microwave ovens, and continually emit radiation comparable to a cell phone tower located 150 meters away. The best option is to keep the baby close by, or if needed, invest in an old-fashioned analog monitor.
11. Avoid waterbeds
Sleeping on a waterbed is much like sleeping under a high-tension line. Stagnant water is depleting to the immune system and holds an electromagnetic charge derived from the heating element.
12. Replace CFL bulbs with incandescent bulbs
Compact fluorescent bulbs emit electromagnetic radiation due to the energy saving mechanism used to reduce voltage. What’s more, CFL bulbs emit blue wavelength light radiation which “tricks” the brain into thinking it’s daytime, thereby suppressing melatonin production.
Even more is the toxic nature of CFL bulbs. When a bulb breaks it releases 25,000 to 100,000 nanograms per meter of mercury vapor directly into the air. Incandescent bulbs are far safer, and you will use them far less if you’re falling asleep earlier. See more about artificial lighting in the post Light Bulbs 101.
I wear blue-light filtering orange glasses when reading on my device before bed. Find the glasses here.
What’s on the Other Side of My Head?
13. Move your bed away from walls that have powerful appliances on the other side
The electromagnetic fields generated from appliances such as the refrigerator, furnace, or even a dehydrator that is turned on through the night will penetrate walls. Place your bed on the other side of the room if possible.
Consider Grounding or Shielding
14. Connect with the Earth
The concept of “grounding” refers to the notion of reconnecting our bodies to the Earth’s natural frequency pulsation of approximately 10 Herz. These frequencies are the same as those produced by the human brain in the theta and alpha relaxation/sleep states.
The ideal way to connect with the Earth is to spend time outdoors. I have noticed that 20 minutes outside with my feet on the ground relaxes my brain. I have done this just before bed and found I fall asleep much faster.
There are many grounding fabrics and sheets on the market today. Not everyone has a positive experience as everyone’s home electrical environment (and electrical sensitivity) is unique.
It is critical first to reduce your EMF environment before adding a grounding sheet to your sleeping arrangement.
Further reading on the pros and cons of grounding sheets
- Position Paper on the Proper Use of Earthing and Grounding Pads to Combat Elevated Electric Fields
- Should I Ground Myself and What’s Wrong with Earthing Mats and Pads
- Is Grounding Good for You?
(To make your grounding fabric, you will need a plug-to-gator alligator clip. The clip attaches to the fabric, and the 3-prong molded plug goes into a properly-grounded 3-prong outlet. You can find the clip at Less EMF. Less EMF also offers a broad range of fabrics. I like the HertzCloth for its conductivity, price, and cotton material.)
This video offers a demonstration of grounding and shielding properties of fabrics.
15. Shield the room if necessary
If you are unable to avoid a smart meter, or you live in an apartment next to a bank of smart meters, consider shielding your sleeping area. This step can also be beneficial if you are in proximity to a cell tower. (Or have close neighbors who keep their Wi-Fi on at night.)
Be sure to power off/eliminate all wireless devices in the room you are shielding to avoid aggravating the situation. Shielding is a complex issue and may require the help of an experienced electrician.
There are several options including grounding paint and shielding fabric. The following are available through LessEMF.org
We are part of a global experiment when it comes to the health effects of electromagnetic radiation. Why wait for those in authority to tell us to protect ourselves?
One option for taking your measurements in sleeping areas is the Cornet Electrosmog Meter. It measures both radio frequencies and magnetic fields. Learn more about the Cornet Meter at LessEMF.
Whether it’s turning off the Wi-Fi at night, removing electronic devices, or moving our furniture, there is much we can do to promote melatonin production and restore a deep, restful sleep.
We discuss these principles for restorative sleep in the following episode of The Connecting Place.